Sorrel is practically speaking, an ‘herb-vegetable’ or ‘pot-herb’ as it can be cooked like a vegetable, while it has a distinctive lemony flavour like an herb. It can be harvested at baby leaf stage and is a great lettuce substitute in salads and sandwiches as it doesn't go limp. It is most delicious when cooked; the flavour is delightfully acidic. It is a fantastic partner to fish, veal, eggs, and potatoes in soup or gratin.
Sorrel was gathered from the wild until the late 1600s, when French gardeners decided to bring it under cultivation to improve the flavour and texture of the leaves. The oldest cultivated sorrel still extant is ‘Belleville,’ domesticated in France during the 1730's.
Sorrel De Belleville is a small French cultivar with pale-green leaves to 8cm (3in) long. It is hardy, fast growing cultivar and well-proven to be productive under almost any conditions. Its powerful lemony flavour can be tamed easily by blending it with other milder ingredients.
Very easy to grow, producing clumps of pale green leaves with a good lemon flavour, it is greatly appreciated in France, where it is grown in everyone's garden and is easy to find in produce stands.
This hardy perennial pot herb can even withstand freezing winters. Once established, it can be treated as a 'cut and come again' crop. The plant should produce greens for 8 to 10 years.
Sorrel is one of the earliest green crops and embarrassingly easy to grow, once you've got a clump going it needs no attention other than when you want to eat it.
Sorrel prefers a sunny (or partially-shaded) spot with a reasonably-fertile and moisture-retentive soil, but thrives even in heavy soil. It may need partial shade in very hot areas.
If you don't have space in the garden, a large pot filled with good quality compost will make a great home for your plants. Just remember that pot-grown plants will need more watering and feeding than those in the ground.
French sorrel may also be cultivated indoors for use during the winter months.
Sowing: Sow in Spring or in Autumn to overwinter.
Seeds can be sown at any time of year but are best sown in spring once the temperature warms a little.
If the weather is against you and it's just too cold for planting seeds outside, they can be sown into small pots indoors. Use modular seed trays filled with seed compost and keep them in a greenhouse or cold frame until the seedlings are ready for transplanting outside.
Modular-raised sorrel seedlings should be moved from their trays to the vegetable garden in the late spring. Space 30cm (1ft) apart and plant to the same depth as in their original containers. Water well to help them establish.
A week before sowing the seeds outdoors, fork and rake over the ground several times to establish a soil surface with a fine and level tilth free of all weeds and large stones - and scatter a general organic fertiliser over the site.
The tiny seeds are best sown in 5mm (¼in) deep seed drills (rows). Lightly water the base of the drill, sow the seeds thinly inside and cover with soil – and label the site so you know which crop is where. Space the drills 45cm (18in) apart. Once the seedlings have germinated and they are large enough to handle, thin them to 7.5cm (3in) apart. A few weeks later, thin the remaining seedlings again so there is 30cm (12in) between each one.
Once sorrel plants are established and growing happily, they need very little further attention beyond a bit of weeding, and watering during dry spells, especially if they are growing in a pot. One thing sorrel plants really don't like is to be hot and dry.
If your plants start to form flowering shoots the leaves will become tougher and have less flavour, so cut off flowering stems as they appear. On the other hand, if you decide that sorrel is a plant you would like more of, simply allow it to flower and set seed.
Sorrel plants should be divided every three years or so to keep them growing vigorously. Dig the plant up in spring or autumn, gently pull it into smaller pieces, each with roots attached and replant in fresh soil. Water the new plants well, and keep the soil around them damp in the following weeks.
Leaves can be harvested any time after the first couple of months of spring growth, but they tend to be almost tasteless early on, gradually gaining their characteristic and desired acidity and flavour as the season wears on.
The tender, young basal leaves are the best ones to pick for culinary purposes as they are less bitter than the course, older foliage. To guarantee a constant supply of young leaves, lightly harvest the plants on a regular basis throughout the main growing season. For the best flavour, use them on the same day, although they can be frozen.
The young leaves are suitable for picking on a regular basis from March until November. They can also be gathered through the winter if the plants are covered with protective cloches from late-autumn to the early spring. In the kitchen, break the stems off backwards before using. This will draw out any tough string that continues up the middle of the leaf.
The lemony tang of sorrel makes a great addition to salads. As the leaves get bigger they can be cooked like spinach and used in soups, sauces and risottos. Heating sorrel dulls the taste a little, so you can afford to be more generous with the leaves if you are going to cook them.
If you've never used sorrel, begin by adding it to your potato soup or gratin. Just sauté three or four large handfuls of chopped leaves in a bit of butter until they 'melt.' The melting quality makes sorrel a fantastic central ingredient for sauces for fish and veal. Your guests will wonder what the mystery ingredient is that gives that sauce such an intriguing tang.
Sorrel is one of those leafy greens (like spinach) whose culinary values depend in good part on their oxalic-acid content which is what gives them their distinctive tart flavour. Most people need not be concerned about oxalic-acid but those with certain conditions such as kidney disease, kidney stones, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, do need to be careful.
The high acid content of the leaves also means that the flavour can be impaired if they are cooked in aluminium or cast iron pans. Use stainless steel utensils as well as cookware while cooking sorrel.
Types of Sorrel:
There are many different types of sorrel, of which four are particularly suitable for the kitchen garden. All are perennial, and will start producing leaves in early spring each year.
- Broad-Leaf sorrel (Rumex acetosa) has lots of large arrow-shaped leaves. Also known as Common Sorrel or Garden Sorrel, the leaves emerge from a dense basal clump and have a reddish tinge when they are young. The young leaves are tender and full of flavour, larger leaves are best cooked. It is the most strongly flavored variety with a sharp, lemony taste.
- Buckler-leaf or True French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) has much smaller leaves which are green and appear like a shield. The leaves don't grow large enough to become tough, they have a milder flavour - less sour than the broad leaf form and possess a distinct lemon flavour. The flowers are small and have a green colour, which changes to reddish-brown later.
- Patience sorrel also known as Herb Patience (Rumex patientia) is the mildest variety and tastes a little like spinach. It is often consumed as a leaf vegetable in Southern Europe.
- Red Veined sorrel, often called Bloody sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) is the most ornamental. It has deep red veins and mid-ribs and looks right at home in a flower border if you don't have space for a vegetable patch.
Garden sorrel is indigenous to Europe as well as Asia; while French sorrel has its origin in the mountains of Southern France and the southern and central regions of Europe and southwest Asia.
Sorrel is a genus containing many rather close cousins, also called 'sorrel' of one kind or another--wild sorrel, sheep sorrel, grassleaf sorrel, indian sorrel, maiden sorrel, green sorrel, red sorrel, and many more.
The sorrels are all members of the Polygonaceae (from the Greek for "many-kneed", referring to the characteristic stem joints) family, which does not include any large number of common edibles, though rhubarb belongs, as do dock and buckwheat.
In the ancient world, sorrel was an extremely well-liked culinary herb and was used in the form of an antiseptic in conventional folk medicine. Owing to the elevated vitamin C content it was rightly believed to ward off scurvy. The roots and seeds were recommended in the form of a common tonic
Since the 14th century, it has been extensively used in the form of a vegetable and salad plant in the West.
The Latin name for the sorrel family is Rumex meaning “I suck”, as Roman soldiers apparently used to suck the leaves to relieve thirst, as did, at least in some works of literature, field workers.
Our modern word Sorrel comes from the old French surele, which derived from sur, meaning 'sour'.
In Italy, the Latin acetosa is also the Italian word for the plant. In ancient Rome, both Rumex and acetosa were words meaning sorrel, but acetosa also means vinegary, sour, or pungent.
In France the word Oseille pronounced "Oh-zehy," means "Sorrel".
Confusingly, the species R. acetosa is also sometimes called 'French sorrel', and R. scutatus is sometimes called 'True French sorrel' to distinguish it.
There are also many common English names for the various sorrels: little vinegar plant, sour grabs, sour suds, sourgrass, green-sauce (a popular dish made with sorrel, vinegar, and sugar),
- Additional Information
Packet Size 1 gram Average Seed Count 1,000 Seeds Common Name French Sorrel
Heritage (French 1730's)
Other Common Names Baby Leaf, Micro Leaf Other Language Names IR - Samhadh. Family Polygonaceae Genus Rumex Species acetosa Synonym Broad Leaf Sorrel Hardiness Hardy Perennial Time to Sow Sow in spring or in autumn to overwinter Notes Herb, Vegetable